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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Walker and His Aides Shared Confidential County Business on Private Emails

Former county employee says secret email system started in 2002

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Gov. Scott Walker’s aides in his Milwaukee County executive’s office used their private emails to share information protected by attorney-client privilege, confidential contract bidding details, and updates from closed-door meetings, a survey of the newly released John Doe emails shows.

Prosecutors had thought that Walker’s county aides began using a private wireless router in 2009, when then-Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell installed a router in his office.

But a blog posted last week alleged that Walker’s aides had used a private email system as far back as 2002, shortly after Walker was elected Milwaukee County executive.

Bob Kiefert, writing on the Green Bay Progressive blog, said he was an IT expert in the county’s human resources department when Russell “wanted to know how he could set up a private computer network within that office which would have its own link to the Internet.”

Kiefer told him how to do it and now alleges that Walker knew about the secret system.

“As I remember, Russell told me that Scott Walker was very appreciative of my help and wanted to thank me personally,” Kiefert wrote. “Russell took me over to Walker’s office for the meet and greet, but he turned out to be busy and only smiled and waved from his desk as we stood outside his office door.

“I have no doubt that Walker knew what he was smiling and waving about. Russell had certainly made it clear that we were doing this at Walker’s bidding.”

 

The Private Emails

The private email system allowed county workers—and Walker himself—to be in constant communication with Walker’s top campaign aides and informal advisors without having to go through the official county Internet server, which is subject to public scrutiny and open records requests.

But Walker and his county aides weren’t just using the private email system to work with his campaign. The private network allowed them to discuss county matters without detection—and share confidential county information with others, including:

n Confidential RFP information: Walker’s county aides shared confidential request for proposal (RFP) information with his campaign staff—as well as Jim Villa, the head of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW) and a longtime Walker friend and advisor. On Sept. 3, 2010, for example, Administration Director Cindy Archer (via her personal email account) shared the details of an RFP for building a new behavioral health facility. The RFP was to be issued on Sept. 13, ten days after Archer’s heads-up. Copied on the email were Walker, Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli (on his personal email account), campaign manager Keith Gilkes, campaign advisor R.J. Johnson, county aide Tim Russell and Villa.

At the same time, Walker’s campaign aides seemingly had no problem asking for confidential RFP information. On July 27, 2010, Walker’s campaign treasurer, real estate developer John Hiller, asked county aide Kelly Rindfleisch for details on an RFP for office space for county workers, including the names of the people on the evaluation committee, the scoring system and whether the county would use a best and final offer procedure. Rindfleisch responded that she didn’t know the answers but “I’ll let you know what they decide.”

n Protected attorney-client communications: Walker’s county staffers also passed along emails that were protected by attorney-client privilege. For example, in August 2010, Rindfleisch forwarded an email the county’s attorney, Mark Cameli, had sent to Journal Sentinel reporters (and, later to top county behavioral health administrators and attorney), which included sensitive information about problems at the County Mental Health Complex. Rindfleish sent the email to Walker, campaign manager Gilkes and campaign advisor Johnson. The subject line of the email read, “Confidential: Confidential Attorney Client Communication.”

Via their private emails in October 2010, Walker’s county and campaign team discussed the imminent filing of a lawsuit against the county in the O’Donnell Park fatality. Campaign manager Gilkes and county aide Nardelli offered their suggestions for messaging, with Nardelli writing to Walker, “You need to be as far away from this issue as possible right now.”

n Open records requests: Walker’s aides routinely passed on open records requests from the Democratic Party, the Mark Neumann campaign, One Wisconsin Now and others to Walker’s campaign staff, allowing them to have a first look at what its political opposition was researching. Walker’s campaign aides instructed the county aides to delay their responses or ignore them altogether.

n Texting from closed-door meetings: “We are in closed session,” Archer texted Walker, Johnson, Gilkes and Rindfleisch on Oct. 11, 2010. “Heads up. Mayo just realized that health care changes are applied to retirees. He made it clear he would be blasting skw [Walker] as soon as we come out of closed session.” Walker quickly responded “Great” and then texted the group a statement that could be given to reporters.